NEWS RELEASES 2010-11 :: JANUARY 25, 2011


North Carolina fourth graders are on par with their national peers in science, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2009 Science Assessment, but eighth grade students in the state performed lower than the national average. Results of the science assessments were released today for the 46 states and jurisdictions that participated in the 2009 assessments. This is the fourth time that NAEP has measured science achievement since 1996.

"Many of the industries that are growing and hiring today have deep roots in science," said State Superintendent June Atkinson. "While NAEP assessments give us an idea of how our students are performing compared to their peers across the nation, it is important to remember that North Carolina graduates also will compete with students from other countries for jobs. If our students are going to graduate truly prepared for success in the global economy, we must continue to focus on boosting their knowledge and skills in this subject area."

Guided by a new framework, the NAEP science assessments were revised in 2009 to keep content current with key developments in science, curriculum standards, assessments and research. Because the NAEP science assessments were revised, recent scores cannot be compared to results from 2005 and previous years.

The 2009 framework organizes science into three broad content areas:

  • Physical Science: includes concepts related to the properties and changes of matter, forms of energy, energy transfer and conservation, position and motion of objects and forces affecting motion;
  • Life Science: includes concepts related to organization and development, matter and energy transformation, interdependence, heredity and reproduction, and evolution and diversity; and
  • Earth and Space Science: includes concepts related to objects in the universe, the history of Earth, properties of Earth materials, tectonics, energy in the Earth systems, climate, weather and biochemical cycles.

The framework also provided an increased focus on the understanding of science principles and asked students to answer questions that cut across the three science content areas. At grades 8 and 12, there was a shift in emphasis in the content areas.

"The new NAEP assessment goes well beyond knowing to doing. It asks students to apply scientific principles, understandings, and methodologies in order to solve real-world problems and design scientific experiments. Overall, students found the science assessment to be a difficult exam," said Mary Frances Taymans, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board.

For fourth graders, North Carolina's average scale score was 148. The fourth grade score was not significantly different from the national average score (149). Sixty-nine (69) percent of North Carolina fourth graders scored at or above the Basic level of performance, and 30 percent were at or above the Proficient level. Nationally, 71 percent of fourth graders scored at or above the Basic level of performance, and 30 percent scored at or above Proficient.

For eighth graders, North Carolina's average scale score was 144. The nation's 2009 average scale score was 149. The percentage of students in North Carolina who scored at or above the Basic level was 56 percent, compared to 62 percent for the nation. The percentage of students at the Proficient level was 24 percent in North Carolina and 29 percent in the nation.

Science is a part of North Carolina's Standard Course of Study for grades K-12. In February 2010, State Board of Education members approved new statewide K-12 Science Essential Standards, which are available online at NCDPI staff members have also developed an instructional toolkit and professional development plan to help teachers transition to the new science curriculum. The K-12 Science Essential Standards will be implemented in the 2012-13 school year. As a part of the state's "Career and College: Ready, Set, Go!" plan, the NCDPI also will assist with opening four STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) high schools.

Approximately 4,500 North Carolina fourth graders and 4,400 eighth graders participated in the science NAEP. Students responded to both multiple choice questions and questions that required students to compose a written response. Because the assessments are given to statewide samples of students, there are no local school or district results available. Their performance is reported as scale scores and achievement levels. The NAEP science assessments are presented on separate 300-point scales. Achievement levels for the science assessments are identified as Basic, Proficient and Advanced. A Basic level denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade. The Proficient level represents solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students at the Proficient level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of knowledge to real-world situations and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter.

North Carolina students take state end-of-grade standardized science assessments in grades 5 and 8 and the end-of-course assessment in biology at grade 10. Science assessments are required for every state in an elementary, middle and high school grade level as a part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also referred to as No Child Left Behind), the federal education law.

For more information, please contact the NC Department of Public Instruction Communications Division, 919.807.3450.

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NAEP 2009 Science Framework
(pdf, 3.5mb)

NAEP 2009 Science FAQ
(pdf, 37kb)

NAEP 2009 Science Snapshot - Grade 4
(pdf, 58kb)

NAEP 2009 Science Snapshot - Grade 8
(pdf, 58kb)

NAEP 2009 Science Sample Questions - Grade 4
(pdf, 538kb)

NAEP 2009 Science Sample Questions - Grade 8
(pdf, 734kb)

About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 160 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.